Palestine Exploration Fund

The Palestine Exploration Fund is a British society based in London. It was founded in 1865 and is the oldest known organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant region, also known as Palestine.[1] Often simply known as the PEF, its initial object was to carry out surveys of the topography and ethnography of Ottoman Palestine with a remit that fell somewhere between an expeditionary survey and military intelligence gathering.[2] Consequently, it had a complex relationship with Corps of Royal Engineers,[3] and its members sent back reports on the need to salvage and modernise the region.[4]

Rock used by the PEF to mark the level of the Dead Sea in the beginning of the 20th century


The beginnings of the Palestine Exploration Fund are rooted in a literary society founded by British Consul James Finn and his wife Elizabeth Anne Finn.[5] Many photographs of Palestine have survived from this period.

On 22 June 1865, a group of Biblical archaeologists and clergymen financed the fund, with initial funding of £300.[3] The most notable of the founders were Arthur P. Stanley, the Dean of Westminster, and George Grove, who later founded the Royal College of Music and was responsible for Grove's Dictionary of Music. Its founders established the fund "for the purpose of investigating the Archaeology, Geography, manners, customs and culture, Geology and Natural History of the Holy Land".[6]

Frederick J. Bliss wrote of the foundation that "[a]s far as its aims were concerned this organization was but a re-institution of a Society formed about the year 1804 under the name of the Palestine Association... it is interesting to note that the General Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund recognized an organic connection with the earlier Society."[7]

The preliminary meeting of the Society of the Palestine Exploration Fund took place in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey. William Thomson, the Archbishop of York, read out the original prospectus at the first organisational meeting;

[O]ur object is strictly an inductive inquiry. We are not to be a religious society; we are not about to launch controversy; we are about to apply the rules of science, which are so well understood by us in our branches, to an investigation into the facts concerning the Holy Land. "No country should be of so much interest to us as that in which the documents of our Faith were written, and the momentous events they describe enacted. At the same time no country more urgently requires illustration ... Even to a casual traveller in the Holy Land the Bible becomes, in its form, and therefore to some extent in its substance, a new book. Much would be gained by ...bringing to light the remains of so many races and generations which must lie concealed under the accumulation of rubbish and ruins on which those villages stand ...[2][6]

The PEF conducted many early excavations of biblical and post-biblical sites around the Levant, as well as studies involving natural history, anthropology, history and geography.

In 1867, Charles Warren led PEF's biggest expedition. Warren and his team improved the topography of Jerusalem and discovered the ancient water systems that lay beneath the city of Jerusalem. The water system was later named Warren's Shaft, after Charles Warren, due to the discovery.[8] They also made the first excavations of Tell es-Sultan, site of biblical city of Jericho.[9]

In 1875, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a prominent social reformer, told the Annual General Meeting of the PEF that "We have there a land teeming with fertility and rich in history, but almost without an inhabitant – a country without a people, and look! scattered over the world, a people without a country". It was one of the earliest usages by a prominent politician of the phrase A land without a people for a people without a land, which was to become widely used by advocates of Jewish settlement in Palestine.[10]

In 1878, the Treasurer's statement listed over 130 local associations in the United Kingdom (including Ireland). There were also branches in Canada and Australia as well as Gaza City and Jerusalem. Expenditure in 1877 amounted to £2,959 14s 11d.[11]

Among other noteworthy individuals associated with the fund were:

Early projects

The first 21 years of the fund are summarised in PEF (1886). Its chapters and personages mentioned include the following:

In his opening address (p.8), Archbishop Thomson laid down three basic principles for the Society:

  • That whatever was undertaken should be carried out on scientific principles
  • That the Society should, as a body, abstain from controversy
  • That it should not be started, nor should it be conducted, as a religious society.

Regarding the latter, great emphasis was placed upon the nomenclature "Holy Land", so the notion of religion could never have been far away. Also (p.10) stress was laid upon the fact that "The Society numbers among its supporters Christians and Jews". (Muslims were not mentioned.)

  • The Chronicle of the Society
  • The First Expedition
  • The Excavations at Jerusalem
  • The Desert of the Exodus
  • The Survey of Western Palestine
  • The Archaeological Expeditions
  • The Survey of Eastern Palestine
  • The Geological Survey
  • Smaller Expeditions
  • The Monuments of the Country
  • Obituary
  • The Work of the Future
  • Chronological Summary of the Fund's Work
  • Captain Conder's identifications

Elsewhere the following activities have been reported:

The Palestine Exploration Fund was also involved in the foundation of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1919. The School worked with the Fund in joint excavations at Jerusalem's Ophel in the 1920s. The school's second director, John Winter Crowfoot, was Chairman of the PEF from 1945 to 1950.[13]

PEF today

Today the fund's office is located at 2 Hinde Mews, W1U 2AA, off Jason Court and Marylebone Lane north of Wigmore Street in the Marylebone section of the City of Westminster, London.


The PEF holds regular events and lectures and provides annual grants for various projects. In partnership with the British Museum Department of Middle East, the Palestine Exploration Fund hosts free lectures that reflect the diverse interests of their membership. The PEF also co-ordinates joint lectures with the Council for British Research in the Levant, the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, the Society for Arabian Studies, and the Egypt Exploration Society. Once a year, an Annual General Meeting (AGM) is held before an lecture.


Each year the Palestine Exploration Fund offers grants for travel and research related to topics connected with its founding aims.

"to promote research into the archaeology and history, manners and customs and culture, topography, geology and natural sciences of biblical Palestine and the Levant"

The committee welcomes interdisciplinary applications relating to the fund’s aims, as well as those relating to the PEF’s archival collections. The PEF grants are open to all members of the PEF or someone who is becoming a member.[14]


The PEF's offices also house collections of photographs, maps, specimens, manuscripts, and paintings.[1] At their location in London, there are collections over 6,000 artefacts that range in date from 40,000 B.C. to the 19th century. The archives contain over 40,000 photographs of Palestine, Jordan, and Syria.[1] Objects come from sites in the South Levant, in particular from Jerusalem, Tell el Hesi, and Samaria. The material comes almost exclusively from PEF excavations carried out between the 1860s to the 1930s. Items on display include artefacts from excavations by Charles Warren, Sir William Flinders Petrie, Frederick Jones Bliss, and John Crowfoot.[15] The PEF also has a collection of casts from original items that now reside in different areas around the world.[16]

Also at the PEF is an archive of maps that is composed mainly of documents, letters, reports, plans and maps compiled by the explorers and scholars who worked for the PEF. These explorers include Charles Warren in Jerusalem and Palestine (1867–1870), Claude Conder and Horatio Kitchener on the Survey of Western Palestine (1872–1878), the Survey of Eastern Palestine (1880–81) and the Wady Arabah (1883-4), the excavations of Flinders Petrie and Frederick Jones Bliss at Tell el Hesi (1890-1892), the excavations of R.A.S. Macalister at Gezer (1902–06), Duncan Mackenzie’s excavations at Ain Shems-Beth Shemesh in 1910–1912, C. L. Woolley and T. E. Lawrence on the Wilderness of Zin Survey (1913–14), and many others.[17]

In addition to these items, the PEF also maintains a collection of photographs of expeditions, coins, natural history, models, and historic forgeries.[18]

The PEF also houses a library containing books pertaining to the diverse interests of itself and its members.

Palestine Exploration Quarterly

The journal of the PEF devoted to the study of the history, archaeology and geography of the Levant is Palestine Exploration Quarterly which has appeared since 1869 (as Quarterly Statement up to 1937). There are currently three volumes published each year.

See also

Further reading

  • Gibson, S. 1999. British Archaeological Institutions in Mandatory Palestine, 1917-1948. Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 131, 115-143.
  • Moscrop, J. J. 1999. Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Land. London: Leicester University Press.
  • Levin, N. 2006. The Palestine exploration fund map (1871–1877) of the holy land as a tool for analysing landscape changes: the coastal dunes of Israel as a case study. The Cartographic Journal, 43(1), 45-67.


  1. ^ a b c "About us". The Palestine Exploration Fund. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b Kathleen Stewart Howe, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, St. Louis Art Museum (1997) Revealing the Holy Land: the photographic exploration of Palestine University of California Press, ISBN 0-89951-095-7 p 37
  3. ^ a b Joan M. Schwartz, James R. Ryan (2003) Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination I. B. Tauris, ISBN 1-86064-752-9, p 226
  4. ^ Ilan Pappé (2004) A history of modern Palestine: one land, two peoples Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-55632-5 pp 34-35
  5. ^ Reminiscences of Mrs. Finn. London. Marshall, Morgan,& Scott. 1929. p. 252.
  6. ^ a b Shehadeh, 2007, p. 46.
  7. ^ Kark, Ruth; Goren, Haim (2011). "Pioneering British exploration and scriptural geography: The. Syrian Society/The Palestine Association". The Geographical Journal. 177 (3): 264–274. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00404.x.
  8. ^ "Projects". The Palestine Exploration Fund. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  9. ^ Wagemakers, Bart (2014). Archaeology in the 'Land of Tells and Ruins': A History of Excavations in the Holy Land Inspired by the Photographs and Accounts of Leo Boer. Oxbow Books. p. 122ff. ISBN 9781782972464.
  10. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund (1875). Quarterly Statement for 1875. London. p. 116.
  11. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement. April, 1878. p.102; Treasurer's Report pp.28-31.
  12. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement. January, 1878. pp.6,12.
  13. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, n. d. John Winter Crowfoot, 1873-1959. Available from:
  14. ^ "Grants". Palestine Exploration Fund. PEF. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  15. ^ "Archaeological Collection". Palestine Exploration Fund. PEF. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Casts". Palestine Exploration Fund. PEF. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Documents and Maps". Palestine Exploration Fund. PEF. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Collections". Palestine Exploration Fund. PEF. Retrieved 10 June 2015.

External links

Survey of Western Palestine

Survey of Eastern Palestine


  • Shehadeh, Raja (2008), Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1416570098
Abu Tor

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Al-Dalhamiyya (Arabic: الدلهمية‎) was a Palestinian Arab village in the Tiberias Subdistrict. It was depopulated during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine on April 15, 1948, under Operation Gideon. It was located 14 km south of Tiberias, on the north bank of the Yarmuk River, on the border between Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan.


Al-Rihaniyya was a Palestinian Arab village in the Haifa Subdistrict. It was depopulated during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine on 30 April 1948 as part of the battle of Mishmar HaEmek. It was located 25 km southeast of Haifa and 3 km northwest of Wadi al-Mileh.


Al-Sammu'i (Arabic: السموعي‎) was a Palestinian Arab village in the Safad Subdistrict. It was depopulated during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine on May 12, 1948, under Operation Hiram. It was located 4 km west of Safad. Today, Kfar Shamai and Amirim are built on the site of the old village.

In 1945, the village had a population of 310. Al-Sammu'i had a mosque and a shrine for a local sage known as al-Shaykh Muhammad al-'Ajami.

Al-Zahiriyya al-Tahta

Al-Zahiriyya al-Tahta (Arabic: الظاهرية التحته) was a Palestinian Arab village in the Safad Subdistrict. It was depopulated during the 1948 Palestine War. The village was located 1 km west of Safad and covered an area of 16,304 dunums.


Bashshit (Arabic: بشيت‎), also Beshshit, was a Palestinian Arab village in the Ramle Subdistrict, located 16.5 kilometers (10.3 mi) southwest of Ramla about half a mile from wadi Bashshit. Archaeological artifacts from the village attest to habitation in the Early Islamic period and 12th and 13th centuries. Mentioned by Arab geographers from the 13th century onward, there was a tomb for the Neby Shit ("prophet Seth") in the village.

Like much the rest of Palestine, Bashshit was ruled by the Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and the British. It was depopulated at the beginning of the 1948 Palestine war during Operation Barak. Along with the villages of Barqa, Bayt Daras, al-Batani al-Sharqi, and al-Maghar, among others, Bashshit was attacked by Haganah's Givati Brigade. Following its depopulation, Bashshit was mostly destroyed. There are seven Israeli localities now situated on what were the village lands.


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Claude Reignier Conder

Claude Reignier Conder (29 December 1848, Cheltenham – 16 February 1910, Cheltenham) was an English soldier, explorer and antiquarian. He was a great-great-grandson of Louis-François Roubiliac.Conder was educated at University College London and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He became a lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1870. He carried out survey work in Palestine in 1872–1874, latterly in conjunction with Lt Kitchener, later Lord Kitchener, whom he had met at school, and was seconded to the Palestine Exploration Fund from 1875 to 1878 and again in 1881 and 1882, when he was promoted captain. He retired with the rank of colonel in 1904.Conder joined the expedition to Egypt in 1882, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, to suppress the rebellion of Arabi Pasha. He was appointed a deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general on the staff of the intelligence department. In Egypt his perfect knowledge of Arabic and of Eastern people proved most useful. He was present at the action of Kassassin, the Battle of Tel el-Kebir, and the advance to Cairo, but then, seized with typhoid fever, he was invalided home. For his services he received the war medal with clasp for Tel el-Kebir, the Khedive's bronze star and the fourth class of the Order of the Medjidie.

While surveying the area of Safed in July 1875, Conder and his party were attacked by local residents, during which altercation Conder sustained a serious head injury which left him bed-ridden for a while and unable to return to Palestine. The work of surveying the country of Palestine commenced again only in late February 1877, without Conder.Conder was first proposed as a candidate for the Jack the Ripper murders by the author Tom Slemen.

Conrad Schick

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Gottlieb Schumacher

Gottlieb Schumacher (21 November 1857 – 26 November 1925) was an American-born civil engineer, architect and archaeologist of German descent, who was an important figure in the early archaeological exploration of Palestine.

Khirbat Lid

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Khirbat al-Duhayriyya

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Tel Maresha (Hebrew: תל מראשה‎) is the tell (archaeological mound) of the biblical Iron Age city of Maresha, and of the subsequent, post-586 BCE Idumean city known by its Hellenised name Marisa, Arabised as Marissa (ماريسا). The tell is situated in Israel's Shephelah region, i.e. in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains. It was first excavated in 1898-1900 by the British archaeologists Bliss and Macalister on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund and again after 1989 by Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The majority of the artifacts of the British excavation are to be found today in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

This site is now protected as part of Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Mughr al-Khayt

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Nimrin was a Palestinian Arab town of 320 that was captured and depopulated by Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.


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Tell el-Hesi

Tell el-Hesi (Hebrew: תל חסי‎), or Tell el-Hesy, is a 25-acre archaeological site in Israel. It was the first major site excavated in Palestine, first by Flinders Petrie in 1890 and later by Frederick Jones Bliss in 1891 and 1892, both sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). Petrie's excavations were one of the first to systematically use stratigraphy and seriation to produce a chronology of the site.Tell el-Hesi is located southwest of the modern Israeli city of Qiryat Gat.

Umm ash Shauf

Umm al-Shawf or Umm ash Shauf (Arabic: أُم الشوف‎, Umm esh Shauf) was a Palestinian Arab village located 29.5 km south of Haifa, on the sloping section of Wadi al-Marah. It was depopulated as a result of a military assault between May 12–14, just before the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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